Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Arrival Argentina

Argentina - it's a place we have talked for years about visiting.  I'm not sure if it is the name "Patagonia"and its association with adventure clothing, the fly fishing opportunities, or the photos we've seen that have made it so attractive to us.  We've never been south of the US and don't speak more than a few words of Spanish.  Planning this trip, the hotels/flights/car rentals has been challenging as there is much less advice on the forums regarding traveling independently  in South America than for Europe and most of the people we know have gone with tour groups. Originally, this trip was scheduled for April but after talking with people, realized that it might snow in the mountains by then, and the fishing will be very poor.  We are going with a sense of adventure but also apprehension at all the unknowns.  We're not sure what to expect other than the fact that there seems to be a lot of petty thefts!  I spend the entire evening changing purses and bags, trying to decide on the most secure way to carry my camera equipment, and finally decide to leave the good camera and ipad at home.

The biggest barrier to our departure is an hour delay at sfo for what is described as "we are waiting for maintenance to sign off", but what is later revealed as a mechanical problem. United certainly packs their planes to the gills these days.  I wonder why the overhead bins are designed such that luggage does not fit. We watch as countless fliers and attendants move bags back and forth much like solving a puzzle to making it all fit. Free movies for all was the consolation gift for our delay; people are easy to please-- cheers go up with this announcement- how quickly people forget that movies used to all be free as were meals. Soon they will be charging us for seat cushions and for the privilege of using the bathroom!  Our trip takes over 20 hours with a layover in Houston.

It is early afternoon when we arrive to sunny skies and temperatures in the 80's in Buenos Aires. From the air Buenos Aires reassembles Chicago-- trees, green parks, sprawling, flat and with waterways snaking and winding across the land. The very brown Rio de la Plata frames the eastern side of the city.  As we waited for customs, I couldn't help looking at people's jewelry and clothing, trying to make sense of travel forum warnings of jewelry theft and the importance of making oneself look like a native. What does a native look like? I soon realized that natives look just like middle class Americans walking through the shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon. Jeans, gym shoes, t shirts etc are the norm. I had pictured Argentinian women well dressed in heels but that is not the case.

Taxis are prepaid for at the very prominent and official taxi desk; it costs 220 pesos to go to Palermo Soho, and we are led out to a very organized taxi line. It takes about 40 min to get to Palermo Soho. We drive through an area that is old and run down, clearly a poorer section of town.  The majority of walls are covered with graffiti. As we approach the city center, we see a few high rises and I again am reminded of Chicago along the lakefront.  This is not a wealthy city and is a distinct contrast to central Beijing and other European cities like Paris, Rome, London etc. Our hotel, the Esplendor Palermo Soho is very well located, just a few blocks from the botanic garden and zoo, a small boutique hotel in a residential neighborhood that feels safe, and with police presence at night.  Rooms are spartanly furnished but quite clean and service is wonderful. but we feel safe walking the area.

The city is divided into sections - Palermo, Palermo Soho, Belgrano, and Recoleta are higher end tourist areas.  Palermo has more green space and parks; Recoleta has the larger hotels. The Centro area is the banking and trading district. San Thelmo is a residential area for the working class with auto and industrial shops.  La Boca is described as colorful but we were warned about walking in this area and so avoided going there. We wander out for the afternoon walking to Recoleta. The streets are lined with small shops-pharmacies, clothing stores, restaurants, etc. much like the smaller streets of China and there are very few big department stores. I am reminded of the fact that walking in these cities as in China, is hard on the feet and quite unlike walking around in the US. The sloping sidewalks, broken pavement, uneven tiles, holes etc put stress on my feet and I long for the comfort of gym shoes.

Fodors recommends Don Julio, a parillo, for its grilled meats. Since it is only 4 blocks from our hotel, we opt to go there on our first night as we gradually build our confidence in walking the streets here.  Ray's sirloin is buttery tender but my rib eye is tougher and our plain boiled vegetables are not too impressive.  We high five at not having been pickpocketed.


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